Crashing the Grand Théâtre de Genève



theatreHow do you crash one of the great theatres of Europe? Here’s how I did it on my recent visit to Switzerland. I was in Geneva in November to attend a meeting of the International Press Institute — on whose board I sit — related to press freedom. When the meeting ended a bit early, I emailed Armando Gonzalez, a soloist with the Geneva Ballet. Armando is a graduate of New World School of the Arts in Miami. I met him earlier this year after the Peter London Global Dance Company invited him to choreograph a piece in honor of my friend Victoria London. He suggested that I look him up if I’m ever in Geneva. He responded to my email, saying that he was about to go on stage in the season’s final production of Casse-Noisette, described as an enchanting fairy tale full fo exuberant joy and lyric tenderness. One catch: I had to be at the Grand Théâtre de Genève in a half-hour.

NO TIME TO SPARE

theatre2Fifteen minutes had passed before I saw the email. What to do? Go out for drinks with friends or hustle to the theatre. I grabbed a cab and rushed to the theatre. The show had already started. I asked to purchase a ticket. Not possible, I was told. It had been sold out for weeks. (Armando later said he had planned to take me through the staff entrance.) An usher suggested that I wait for intermission and maybe Armando would answer an email telling him that I was in the lobby. As I waited, I checked out the beautiful lobby, where the production was being shown on a large screen.

Intermission. And no response.

When the bell rang to signal the show was about to resume, the theatre manager walked over to apologize. “Not a single seat is available,” he said.

As we talked, a woman waited patiently to the side with her two kids. I thanked the manager and began to leave. Just then, the woman handed him three tickets. Her children were sleepy, she said, and she was taking them home.

 ‘LUCKY DAY’

Grand Théâtre de Genève.

The manager handed me one of the tickets. “It’s your lucky day!” he said.

An usher came running and asked me to follow her. Up the stairs we ran. My benefactor had great seats: First balcony and slightly to the right of the stage. I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the show. It’s great having Lady Luck as your dance partner!

FROM MARRAKECH TO TORONTO, BEHIND SCENES OF LATEST TRAVELS

When I travel, I enjoy giving you a behind-the-scenes look at experiences that help make the trip memorable. What follows are snapshots from my current dash from Marrakech to London to Toronto to Washington, D.C. to Miami.

LATE IRON LEAVES ME STEAMED

Giving the prologue at the Atlantic Dialogues in Marrakech.

Giving the prologue at the Atlantic Dialogues in Marrakech.

I arrived in Marakech on Thursday to attend the Atlantic Dialogues. I was honored to be asked to do the prologue, the opening speech that sets the stage for the discussions to follow. The night before the opening, I asked the hotel for an iron. None came. Fine, I thought, I would use steam the shower to unwrinkle my shirt. It worked. An hour before the speech, I heard a knock on my door. I opened it to find that housekeeping had finally sent the iron. I didn’t really need it but thought what the heck, I should run it over my shirt to give it a crisp look. I untangled the cord and began ironing, my mind mostly on the speech. I felt a sting on my thigh and quickly pulled the iron away. Yep, I had accidentally burned myself. Sometimes, I thought, best to leave well enough alone, as my mom used to say. As I gave the prologue, I could still feel a slight pain in my thigh. Probably explains why some in the audience said later that I was on fire.

CATCHING UP WITH FRIENDS IN MARRAKECH

Karim, left, and Hassan, right. We enjoyed a delicious meal and great conversation in Marrakech.

Karim, left, and Hassan, right. We enjoyed a delicious meal and great conversation in Marrakech.

One of the great delights of travel is visiting with friends around the world. In Marrakech, I had the great pleasure of catching up with my friend Karim. We met on my first visit to Morocco more than five years ago. His family is connected to the family of another good friend, Madhu Metha. At Madhu’s request, Karim showed me around Casablanca. He was a great host and guide. The best part of the visit was dining at Rick’s Cafe, which made me feel for a moment that I was part of a different time. Sam was even at the piano.

I emailed Karim when I arrived in Marrakech to see if he planned to be here for the weekend. I was surprise when he said yes; he had a wedding to attend. We met up a day after the wedding and his brother Hassan joined us. It was great catching up over dinner at the Pacha Complex, a massive compound of restaurants and clubs that he co-owns in Marrakech. Over great wine and food (I had the rabbit) we talked about everything, from Middle East politics to the Florida gubernatorial elections. After dinner, we popped into a few of his other restaurants and the Pacha nightclub. His Churrascaria Marius Brazilian restaurant was incredible: people clapping, dancing on tables. It was quite a show. Dining there next time I’m in Marrakech. I returned to my hotel just in time to get an extra hour of sleep because clocks were being turned back an hour. (See next post).

MARRAKECH HOTEL AND TIME MANAGEMENT

I had problems sleeping most nights. My first morning, I got up in the night and wondered the time, having forgotten to set by watch. I dialed the front desk. “7 minutes to 5,” came the voice on the other end. “7 to 5?” I asked, a bit puzzled. The TV was showing a different time, although I didn’t quite trust it. “Are you sure?” I pressed. He responded with 6:55, which matched what I was seeing on the TV. Of course, that’s far different from 4:53 – although I could have used the extra couple hours of sleep.

 CONNECTING SIR ISAAC NEWTON, FAREED ZAKARIA AND BLOOMBERG’S DAN DOCTOROFF

Sir Isaac Newton. Lived across the street from my hotel in London.

Sir Isaac Newton. Lived across the street from my hotel in London.

Sometimes you see something that makes your jaw drop. That happened Monday morning as I sat for breakfast at the Radisson Blu Edwardian at Leicester Square in London. As I bit into one of the most delicious omelets I’ve ever had, I looked across the street at what a new library building. A historic marker was etched into the side: “SIR ISAAC NEWTON LIVED IN A HOUSE ON THIS SITE. 1710-1727” Wow! I thought. That night, I was to interview Fareed Zakaria and Bloomberg CEO Daniel Doctoroff at the Toronto Global Forum as part of the Executive Club dinner. I had just read on the flight to London (where I spend the night en route Toronto from Marrakech) that Fareed was listed among the 100 great thinkers of our time. I thought I should refer to this somehow in the introducing both men – I’m a big fan of both – to help begin and

Historic marker to Sir Isaac Newton on library in Leicester Square, London.

Historic marker to Sir Isaac Newton on library in Leicester Square, London.

frame the discussion that was to follow. I told the story of spotting the sign and referred to Fareed and Dan as great thinkers of our time. Dan demurred. But after our discussion, I don’t think anyone in the room disagreed with my characterization. They were outstanding. We traveled the world, touching on issues from Brazil to Obama to the Middle East to the European economic crisis to the attack in Ottawa to 911 to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Wish we had more time: wanted to get to Russia and quantitative easing. Next time.

PUSHING FOR PRESS FREEDOM IN THE CARIBBEAN

johnpressfreedomI was recently in Trinidad to  participate in a series of workshops on media self-regulation and election coverage. It was a great experience and I believe progress was made in efforts to advance press freedom in the Caribbean and in deepening election reporting. One of the local newspapers, the Trinidad Guardian, sat down with me for a report on my visit.  Journalist Reshma Ragoonath did a good job of capturing our conversation and my various presentations over the two-day session. Here’s some of her report:

IPI vice-chair to T&T journalists: Push for more press freedom

By Reshma Ragoonath
Published: Sunday, October 12, 2014
Miami Herald world editor and vice-chair of the International Press Institute John Yearwood. PHOTO: MARCUS GONZALES

International Press Institute (IPI) vice-chair and award-winning Trinidad-born journalist John Yearwood says while this country’s press freedom remains “very much alive,” local journalists must continue to push for more freedom to practice their profession. Yearwood, also chairman of the IPI North America committee and world editor at the Miami Herald, in an interview with the Sunday Guardian on Thursday, said Government’s repeal of criminal defamation was a positive step, but journalists must take charge of their enshrined right to freedom of the press.
“That (repeal) gives you a sense that although the Government does not always listen, it does on some things in helping to advance the cause of press freedom.  “But as with everything else, journalists need to continue to push and push for more freedom, and I think that is really, really important. “It is good to see that the Government is involved in helping that, but journalists need not to stop, they need to keep pushing for it,” Yearwood contended.

Yearwood, who is orignally from Point Fortin, but is now based in Miami, was in T&T last week for the Association of Caribbean Mediaworkers (ACM) and T&T Publishers and Broadcasters (TTPBA) media workshop on covering elections, at Cascadia Hotel, St Ann’s. He said more was needed to be done to protect journalists who are threatened and subjected to abuse and intimidation. This, he said, is really unfortunate. “The intimidation of some journalists, that needs to stop.” He hastened to add, that for the most part, the conditions journalists operate under in T&T “is much, much better than in many places around the world.” He said the workshop, which featured sessions on understanding the elections process, reporting on election surveys, democracy and journalistic excellence in the Caribbean and media self-regulation, was a good initiative by the ACM and TTPBA.

For the rest of Reshma’s report, go here.

IPI ‘EXTREMELY CONCERNED’ ABOUT ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS IN FERGUSON, MISSOURI

CNN report after journalists were arrested in Ferguson, Mo.

CNN report after journalists were arrested in Ferguson, Mo.

INTERNATIONAL PRESS INSTITUTE

NORTH AMERICAN COMMITTEE

For Immediate Release

MIAMI, Aug. 18, 2014 — While Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has replaced local “militarized” police officers with the State Police and National Guard, the North American Committee of the International Press Institute calls on law enforcement entities in Ferguson, Missouri to, in the future, abide by the U.S. Constitution and not impede the work of journalists covering the aftermath of the tragic death of Michael Brown. Journalists have reported being harassed, tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets and even jailed while on assignment in Ferguson.

“We are extremely concerned that police in Ferguson trampled on the First Amendment in their zeal to bring the situation there under control,” said John Yearwood, chairman of IPI’s North American Committee. “We call on all law enforcement agencies operating there to respect the rights of journalists to report on conditions in Ferguson and to do so without intimidating the media.

“To see journalists in America treated with disdain and disrespect and threatened with bodily harm – much like the journalists we work so hard to protect around the world — is horrific and unacceptable.”

The North American Committee is one of 20 International Press Institute national committees. IPI is a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists. It is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

For more information, contact John Yearwood,jyearwood@miamiherald.com, or 305-376-3467.

SOUTH AFRICA: CAPTIVATED NATION

Oscar Pistorius at his best.

Oscar Pistorius at his best.

JOHANNESBURG — I’ve just landed in South Africa and it hasn’t taken long to learn what’s captivating this nation.
Moments after hopping into a taxi at Oliver Tambo International Airport for the ride to the smaller Lanseria International Airport (to catch a flight to Cape Town), the driver switched on the radio, saying “it’s time to hear the latest on the Oscar Pistorius  trial.” Sure enough, the coverage was dominating the airwaves as he switched among channels.
During the 45-minute ride, he often shook his head in disbelief as he listened to the athlete being grilled on the stand. At the airport, I picked up three newspapers, all with the Pistorius trial dominating their front pages.
Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp.

Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp.

I don’t know whether Pistorius intentionally murdered his girlfriend, the model Reeva Skeenkamp. But what’s clear is that lots of people here are hooked on every word.
I did hear a new theory — at least to me — on the radio. One caller said Oscar didn’t know Reeva was in the bathroom because after their fight, she was sleeping in another room. Not sure if that’s fact or fiction. But interesting stuff.
If you want to keep up with the trial, The Star newspaper had the following links: www.iol.co.zawww.iol.co.za/Oscar-live-blogwww.iol.co.za/Oscar-live-video.

FOOD & DIPLOMACY

South Beach Food & Wine

Food & Wine Festival

With the South Beach Food & Wine Festival taking place over the weekend, Miami was a great place to be if you love food. It was also a good place to be if you love diplomacy.  I enjoy the former but much prefer the latter. And it’s even better when you can combine the two. My weekend involved lunching with the former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda on Saturday, driving to Palm Beach on Sunday to interview former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and lunching with Miami’s entire diplomatic corps.

Jorge happened to be in town over the weekend and my friend Beatrice Rangel, the highly regarded international business executive, used the opportunity to bring together a few friends for a lunch on her Miami Beach terrace. The group was a mixture of people from around the Americas — Venezuela to Argentina to Mexico to Trinidad.

LONG WAY FROM RABAT

I last saw Jorge in Rabat last October at the German Marshall Fund’s Atlantic Dialogues. It was a great to catch up with him. We had great conversation about pressing issues in

Jorge Castaneda

Jorge Castaneda

the region and at one point we were passing around cell phones to show pictures of the demonstrations taking place in Venezuela at the time.

A big thanks to Beatrice, one of the first people to take me under her wing when I arrived in Miami a decade ago. It’s good to see her back in town. (Two weeks ago, she was my guest for the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations annual dinner.)

PALM BEACH VISIT

On Sunday, I drove to the Four Seasons in Palm Beach to interview Barak for an upcoming Miami Herald Issues & Ideas newsmaker Q&A. I reminded him that I was in Israel seven years ago when he was first appointed defense minister – after his time as Prime Minister.

With Ehud Barak

With Ehud Barak

We had intended to talk for about 25 minutes but our conversation stretched on for 40. We touched on an array of topics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Haiti and Latin America. He was in town to speak at the American Friends of Magen David Adom, which supports MDA, Israel’s national emergency medical response and blood services organization. MDA was among the first outsiders on the ground in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010.

CONSULAR CORPS LUNCH

On Monday, I attended the annual American Jewish  Committee’s Consular Corps luncheon. The speaker was Rabbi David Rosen, the AJC’s international director of interreligious affairs and former Chief Rabbi of Ireland. I

Miami Consular Corps

Miami Consular Corps

spent 10 minutes with him before the luncheon to talk about his recent meetings with Pope Francis and the pope’s planned trip to Israel in May. Rabbi Rosen has met the pope five times since he was inaugurated last March. Look for that conversation in the Miami Herald soon.

Komla Dumor: Great spirit, big heart

BBC presenter Komla Dumor

BBC presenter Komla Dumor

I’ve worked with young people around the world for a decade now, helping to empower them to seize the future. Many have created innovative projects on everything from reducing poverty to curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

I though the youths could benefit from listening to someone I have only recently come to know. His name: Komla Dumor. We met in October at the German Marshall Fund’s Atlantic Dialogues summit in Rabat. Komla gave a short speech to open the summit; I moderated the opening plenary and spoke at the group’s Emerging Leaders Forum. Komla and I hit it off instantly. A Ghanaian journalist who eventually settled in London, he became the face of the BBC in Africa. His latest job: presenter of Focus on Africa and European mornings on BBC World News TV.

We strategized on how the BBC and the Miami Herald could partner on coverage in specific areas. We were excited about executing an idea out of Ghana that will have impact with the Herald’s large Caribbean readership. I looked forward to visiting with him on my next trip to London. In the months since, we exchanged emails and followed each other’s activities on Twitter.

As I prepared to attend this month’s youth summit in Dakar, I thought Komla would be a terrific addition to the program. I emailed an invitation. Silence. I was surprised because I know how much he enjoys working with young people. I resent the invitation.

“I’m sorry for not responding quickly,” he wrote back, almost instantly. “I’m just a bit overwhelmed by a number of issues I’m dealing with.”

And he apologized for not being able to join me in Dakar. Last weekend, as I flew out of Dakar after the summit,  came the most tragic of news: Komla Dumor was dead. Heart attack as he slept.

At just 41 years of age, Komla had made a success of his life but he had so much more living to do. And so many more lives to influence. I am saddened beyond words. I offer my deepest condolences to his wife and three children. He left us way too soon.